Colonoscopies still the best screening for colorectal cancer


This year, approximately 140,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 56,000 people will die from this disease. Yet, it is a highly preventable and treatable disease if caught early, and an estimated 40,000 or more lives could be saved through screening and early treatment.
“I see firsthand every day the needless suffering of patients who have waited too long to discover they have this disease, and the benefits to patients who have been screened early and treated for it,” said Dr. Joseph Sharlow, General Surgeon at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital (SGCMH).
Dr. Sharlow said he hopes people will overcome their reluctance to have a colonoscopy screening.
“I think people shy away from the screening because of a lack of understanding at how simple it can be and how beneficial it really is,” he said. “They feel it may be a painful procedure, which it is not. Some people are afraid of what may be found, but they should not be. The reason we do the screening is to find polyps that are precancerous and remove them so the risk of cancer that would develop in that polyp is erased.”
Sharlow said many times patients wake up after the procedure and ask, ‘Doc, have you started yet?’
“That’s how easy it is,” he said. “Of course the day before we recommend a clear diet and you have to drink a special prep to clean your colon, but it’s really not that bad. It’s only one day, and you may not have to do it again for 10 more years.”
Dr. Sharlow explained that there are things you can do that might help lower your risk, such as changing the risk factors that you can control. Several lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. In fact, the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer. Often, precancerous polyps don’t cause symptoms, especially at first. Many people have polyps or colorectal cancer and don’t even know it; this is why having regular screenings is so important.
According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly occurring cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but it is a preventable and very curable disease if caught early.
“Fortunately, we do have a screening test that works,” he said. “I would encourage everyone to talk to their physician or come see me. We’ll talk about it. Talking about it doesn’t mean you’re committing yourself to it. But you’ll at least learn more about it, and may feel a little more comfortable getting it done. It’s a shame more people don’t take advantage of this, but those that do congrats to them.”
If you or a loved one are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, Sharlow said it’s good to know you have skilled cancer care services right here at home.
“Dr. Alan Lyss and Dr. Atif Shafqat are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and respected doctors who offer their services to our community through an outreach program from Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis,” he said. “The nursing staff in our Cancer Center here at SGCMH are Oncology and Chemotherapy certified and are skilled and experienced in cancer care and specialty infusion services.”

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